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When Words Fail Me, Life Takes Over

Words have failed me for so long now. The first half of this year launched me headfirst into the depths of fear, loss, anger, despair, relentless work ethic and longing for the familiar escapes of faith, family, nature and self care that have sustained me through the years. Here I am photographed in my outdoor armor (even in summer), as I placed a neck covering shawl over my maxi dress, and tied an African wrap over my nose and mouth, with my mask firmly in place underneath. The few times I’ve ventured out to run essential errands my survival instinct has been kicked into high gear, because I’ve lost so many family and friends. I have wanted and even tried on many occasions to commit pen to page and just write. But so often, words failed me and life (in the time of Corona) simply took over. Writing for pleasure has been nearly an impossible task since the onset of this dreadful pandemic. The novelty of this coronavirus and my people not just feeling, but actually being, under attack since February, 2020 has taken its toll. So the things I have always done effortlessly (breathing, writing, introspection and deep thoughtful activism), have been limited to going through the motions and doing just what was needed to survive.

For six months (and counting now), I have kicked in high gear in a major way, in virtually every area of my life. To God be the Glory! And if I’m being completely honest, it has certainly taken its toll. I have done my level best to cultivate the joy and gratitude I have for each day to maintain a peaceful solace and stability in our admittedly peaceful household. I have felt immensely blessed by the presence and quiet, unassuming yet indomitable strength of my creative, brilliant and thoughtfully beautiful adult daughter. She brings me joy, hope and abundant blessings as she weathers this difficult period of life’s trajectory with the exploration and enjoyment of the arts, music and painting especially, and in crafting brag worthy culinary feasts. Meanwhile, I have somehow begun to rise to the occasion as a leader in my immediate and extended family -by enthusiastically convening weekly family connection calls since March, which have now (thankfully and admirably) morphed into bi-weekly business meetings which have united us in a collective desire to forge ahead undaunted by fears of gloom and doom. In addition, I have spearheaded the near all-encompassing immersion of my entire church family and membership into the 21st Century age of technology as we now surpass snail mail totals with our online PayPal business account for the submission of our tithes and offerings. Also, we have been blessed and spiritually nourished via our now routine weekly Zoom worship services – which are streamed live in the true spirit of unity. These joint family and community initiatives have been a labor of love to be sure, but no easy task to maintain as it has meant an increased commitment of time (over and above my already busy work schedule). Most importantly, I have also been intentionally prayerful and even more intimately connected with my own mother – my best friend, confidante and a revered elder in both our family and local Black Nationalist and activist community alike – to ensure that as she has been routinely pulled in countless different ways and called upon to minister, give unselfishly of herself in leadership as a tenured professor or a retired elected official and grassroots community activist leader, that she continues to thrive physically, emotionally and mentally and that ultimately she counter her physically active days and nights, with a more predictable “shelter in place” norm which ensures that she is healthy and whole. This has been an especially important priority for me through this time of crisis. As she has lost an inordinate amount of peers to this tragic virus and as the eldest daughter, I consider it both an honor and my absolute responsibility that all of my Mother’s needs are met (despite her continuing refrain that “she’s got it”) ❤️. As such, nothing has given me more satisfaction than to have my Mom and honestly every other member of my family within my immediate (or technology savvy reach) be as: healthy, centered, happy and most importantly the picture of wellness as they can possibly be; our people overall are under attack in experiencing the acute impact of pain and loss during this horrific time in human history.

On a professional level, I have experienced a perceptible shift in the scope of my primary work as an Instructional Coach working directly with select school districts across the country to ensure that equity is leveraged as an all-inclusive priority. Despite the in-person closure of districts, I have ramped up my work on a global, virtual platform to ensure that I am instrumental in the development of our collective capacity to lead as administrators, lead teachers and ELA subject area practitioners. This meaningful work has been largely fueled by my life’s work and overarching mission to dismantle oppression and mis-education in such a way that the needs of Black students, in particular, are met commensurate with the unique genius, culture and exemplary humanity we bring to the world is similarly acknowledged in educational spaces. Well, in this time of unprecedented chaos and given the potential for substantive change, one of the ways I have certainly stepped up the very real challenges of meeting the wide-ranging needs of our youth leadership (aka students), has been by using news articles to design rigorous, Common Core curricula aligned lessons that were inclusive of close readings, text and life experience-based analyses, oral/written critical reflections, and formative evaluations. After fashioning an intentionally engaging high school distance learning curriculum from scratch (with only a unit theme and the accessible Newsela site as a guide); I then commenced to connecting virtually with students via a digital platform and hosting daily videos in a pre-recorded series of lesson accompaniments designed to at least mimic the sort of seamless, caring, engaging instruction my teaching might otherwise offer in person. The resulting immersion in student facing, content creation and a coveted opportunity to counteract trauma and otherwise contribute to an integral part of their abrupt, post-school closure/early onset of the pandemic daily lives, became as much of a soul-enriching blessing to me, as I pray it was to each of them. Admittedly, this work was highly fulfilling and close to my heart over the course of the 10-12 weeks duration in which it was produced. Since then, I have been committed to consulting an increasingly extensive body of research to determine the ‘best practices’ of an equitable school restart plan which would empower us to essentially reimagine school on a solid foundation of Revolutionary promise which would capitalize upon the spirit of the day and prioritize the needs of students. However, over time the challenge has been to fulfill my own personal, self care centered goals with my trademark of excellence…as the death toll increased exponentially in my own personal life and as the world was literally falling apart all around me/us. I’m sure you can more clearly see how/why blog writing took a seat wayyy in the back of life’s priorities.

During the interim period in which words and my love of writing failed me, I did manage to write a very therapeutic, narrative poem as a sort of ode to Paul Laurence Dunbar’s classic We Wear the Mask. But it laid bare so much raw pain and revolutionary fervor that I opted not to publish it at the time it was written as a means to maintain the public facing integrity of this educational blog. In retrospect, if I have stepped up either personally or professionally, in ways that did disappoint, it truly was not my intention to do so. As I progress through my forties, showing up as my authentic self means that white supremacy norms and unattainable dispositions towards perfection are no longer feasible. I am unapologetically me. In fact as if the aforementioned jobs were not enough, because I have always been a multifaceted high achiever, the noted primary work obligations were uniquely complemented by my ongoing and very active vocations as: a college graduate professor (to a host of truly brilliant and selfless educators), and an online international ESL language teacher to a small cadre of brilliant and highly motivated Chinese students (but, only on the weekends, given my expanded schedule and professional obligations since November of last year). Lastly, as a small business owner I have suffered significant lapses in clientele and company growth/expansion with the overwhelming constraints of conducting business in a post-pandemic and failing American economy. Essentially, through all this admitted busyness, I have scarcely had time to breathe, sleep, eat, exercise, meditate and pray. So writing: my self avowed first love (only rivaled by my loves of reading, being immersed in loving relationships and enjoying and loving life overall), had been forcibly thrown to the wayside in the hierarchy of priorities. Having honestly admitted these heartfelt truths is therapeutic for me. I must say how grateful I am for the faithful blog supporters who stuck around and hung in there with me, through lengthy periods of absence and the literal deafening silence which had come to be the reality of this beloved blog in the time of Covid.

In conclusion, I wish I could say that things would be back to normal soon, whatever that means, in terms of post pandemic life and our collective new normal. Sigh…but sadly, the death toll here in Detroit had only falsely appeared to dissipate and it now seems to be back on the rise with no end in sight. Also, the pivotal work of dismantling oppression in education is especially needed right now and does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. While I am due for a coveted and long awaited week long vacation – that I hope to soon schedule and enjoy – I can only commit to keeping myself, the health of my family and friends and my life’s work uppermost in my priorities for the foreseeable future. I would LOVE nothing more than to write like my life depended on it, (because really it does), and to once again think deeply, rest sufficiently and experience joy without limits. Alas, the reality of this dual pandemic of COVID and racism means that my survival (and that of those whom I love) is truly not guaranteed and thus, the world turns in such a way that duty calls. What I can promise is that when I do get an opportunity to pour out of myself on this very public platform, I will do so authentically and somewhere within the unique intersectionality (thanks Sis, Kimberlé Crenshaw, #CiteBlackWomen), of Black woman, Mother, Scholar-Educator, She-Her-Hers, my health and wellness, fighting on the front lines of liberation and education. Until then, please be well! Asé ❤️✊🏿

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Would you Pass an #Equity Litmus Test?

“Walk it like I talk it” is what comes to mind when you think about the attention paid to equity across today’s educational and professional landscape. Although a widespread verbal commitment to equity is now politically correct and upon everyone’s lips as a trendy way to appear #Woke, we must advance beyond mere lip service and into the realm of the tangible in order for deeply entrenched levels of equity to be realized. In other words, it’s time to show and prove that we can walk it, like we talk it.

In this sense, equity starts in your own belief system and household and does not encompass merely the lip service paid while one enjoys the privileges of whiteness or working/middle class affluence. Question: would you enroll your children in an integrated, inner city neighborhood public school? And educators: would you consider enrolling your own children in the schools in which you teach? 🤔 The question is no doubt rhetorical, but if the answer to this question is not affirmative, chances are that you are painfully aware of the inequitable funding, resources and academic outcomes which are a reality within a widespread system of mis-education; yet you have, like so many others, deemed low-income, Black students as expendable. #Smdh.

Ultimately, NO student should be regarded as a sacrificial lamb from an educational perspective but Americans have made a conscious decision over the past few decades since Brown v. Board of education, to re-segregate education (and housing) on the basis of white privilege and affluence – thereby rendering mis-education as a myth or the inescapable inheritance of those unfortunate, marginalized children. I guess the real question is: who decides which children are unworthy of an equitable and high quality education education? The resounding consensus is that WE do . . . Everyday and by virtue of which schools we opt to enroll our own children. Truly, actions speak volumes over words and the act of personal investment in an inequitable system goes a long way towards establishing your commitment to and unwavering involvement in fostering widespread change. For the record, I’m not speaking about my opinion here, I am honestly about that life and telling you what I know from my own experience as both an educator and a parent who made a conscious decision to invest in my own child’s education as commensurate with the sacrifices I was willing to make on behalf of our people and all of the other children whom society regards as expendable. If the neighborhood school system in the countless cities in which you make your livelihoods aren’t worthy of your own child’s enrollment…perhaps your commitment to equity is in lip service only.

Each of us is uniquely obliged and largely responsible for counteracting the institutionalized systems of oppression that marginalized people inextricably face in meaningful, tangible, and personally significant ways, not just with the imposter syndrome facades with which we adorn our public persona(s). How can the public, impoverished schools ever be improved upon and rendered equitable, if they remain as an enigma to our own experience as privileged, school choice decision makers? Inner city schools go the way of housing and many are wholly abandoned by the affluent change makers in our midst who use their privilege (as secured by educational esteem and degrees) as fodder for their decisions to move on up (and right out of) disadvantaged communities. That is until gentrification deems the financial benefits of re-discovering and re-investment in a well established ‘historic’ region with renewed interest and promise of prosperity and stability. Even more curious, the verbal commitment of educated professionals who ourselves work in inner city schools have often tied our public agendas to equity, student achievement and closing the opportunity gap, even as their own residence is outside the community in which they earn a living and their own children attend private schools. Recently, the Washington Post posited that equity “could be the most effective mechanism for driving better outcomes for Black and Brown children”, still it would be very telling to conduct a poll on one’s personal alignment to equity, using school enrollment and residency as a sort of personal preference litmus test (to determine if the private reality matches up with one’s public perception). I daresay, our collective actions speak louder than words.

Despite my esteemed educational attainment and lengthy career as a teacher, principal and now a college professor – choosing to devote the bulk of my daily energy to dismantling mis-education through my work as an instructional leadership coach – my life’s work pays homage much more to my own humble public school beginnings, than it does to framing an illusory portrait of financial stability and upward mobility. Because quite frankly, the truth is that for even working class professionals like myself, we are all merely 1-2 paychecks (or looming, depression-like recession status) away from the clear and present danger of financial crisis. So we must align our personal commitments with our public persona as a means to lend credibility and the spiritual fortitude of Ma’at (balance, truth and reciprocity) to our efforts and to what we hold dear.

My own daughter, nieces, nephews, and cousins have ALWAYS attended the same Detroit and Brooklyn inner city, public schools I have taught in. Moreover, in each of these cities, I also lived in the neighborhood in which the schools were located. This is not a novel idea, because my college educated, community invested parents ultimately laid the foundation for an exemplar of: community reinvestment, social activism, grassroots political engagement, Black economic empowerment and perhaps most importantly, neighborhood public school enrollment, involvement and accountability that I was genetically gifted with the literal playbook equity 101. Trust me: it makes a huge difference to be both immersed in and materially invested in (as opposed to pimping), the communities and schools for which we fight.

Equity, social activism, anti-racism and their inextricable ties to freedom from oppression are not just fancy buzzwords in my family – they were and always will be a way 👏🏾 of 👏🏾 life 👏🏾. If the communities in which we lived and the schools in which we chose to enroll our own CHILDREN were the litmus test for equity, progressive thought and an abiding commitment to anti-racist ideology, sooo many people (educators included), would fail. 👀💯 Contrary to popular belief, many social activists and leaders have similarly opted to align their personal agendas with their beliefs and public persona, and in doing so they courageously set the standard of a conscious commitment to equity (not just in words, but in deeds). Notably esteemed and admirably bad-assed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, would likely agree that she and her husband’s reported decision to enroll their 4-year old daughter in a high poverty school is not sacrificing high quality nor lasting academic performance and success, rather she is exercising equity in action by investing in the very community within which some of our best and brightest Black and Brown children have sprung. She vehemently defends this decision against critics who insisted that she shouldn’t experiment with her own child’s education to a social justice agenda and she wisely counters “whose children should be sacrificed?”.

Of course I can only speak from personal experience, still I have admittedly been blessed to attend AND work in schools within which the founders, school leaders and teachers/support staff, all had their own children enrolled. It made a fundamental difference in how equity was practiced in terms of teacher pay, academic quality and the depth of the lifelong relationships and alliances formed. How blessed I have been to have had the exemplary privilege to have been enrolled in and to have taught in such unique institutions which meaningfully actualized the Educate to Liberate mantra of education as the basis of freedom from oppression. Surely the breadth of my lengthy experience as an educator also means that I have attended and worked in schools within which the leadership and instructional team have had multiple school-aged children who overwhelmingly attended private, suburban or parochial schools in the detached, affluent communities in which they lived. But of course, by and large these educators comprised the non-invested, savior, or “I’ve got mine, you get yours” ilk who represent the portrait of mis-education. No judgment if this has been your experience . . . But kindly save us all the empty lip service regarding your heartfelt commitment to equity. America has been far too willing to sacrifice its Black and Brown children to mis-education, while privilege and affluence prescribes the perpetuation of the status quo for their own offspring. Equity is not just a popular buzzword but informs a living, breathing and autonomous decision-making reality in each of our lives. How about making certain that we can walk it, like we talk it?

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Why U.S. Achievement and Performance Lags Globally? A Failure to Own The Educational Process

A child’s first teacher is their parents. Among the most developed nations, there is no assumption that any government institution, school or individual should have greater sway over a child’s education than one’s family or oneself. Yet over time, schools have grown in power and influence to the extent that they are largely deemed accountable for all knowledge acquisition. The truth is that the most fundamental components of one’s learning occurs outside any institution. Parents, through an equal combination of language, behavior, explicit instruction and tacit experiences convey the most profound lessons to our children and these values are then effortlessly passed on to the next generation. This intellectual foundation, in turn, sets the stage for what should constitute a collective responsibility to embrace lifelong learning. Early on, children learn to value knowledge acquisition based upon the family’s approach and the overall emphasis placed on reading, speaking, social interactions and critical thinking, reasoning. To the extent that parents can engage, it is never too late (and always preferable), that adults take full control and ultimately own the educational trajectories of their own children. Recently released data (2017), from Pew Research Center’s international math and science assessments analysis indicate that “U.S. students continue to rank behind many other advanced industrial nations”, in fact a companion survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that just 16% rank U.S. K-12 STEM education as the best or above average; 46%, in contrast, said K-12 STEM in the U.S. was below average. The fact that the U.S. is consistently outranked in Science, Mathematics and Reading by countries like Finland, Japan and China is no secret – however, a copious analysis of the reasons the U.S. is left behind is quite sobering.

Educators often lament that children are sent to school within the early childhood education phase, without having had the benefit of the vast knowledge “building blocks” to succeed in life. This initial learning includes much more than merely the A, B, Cs and 1, 2, 3s but comprises the a wide array of knowledge and is observable through a child’s natural curiosity, language acquisition, spatial orientation, and behavioral interactions with both peers and adults. Between the ages of 0-5 (and especially by age 3), before a child is even introduced to formal education, they possess a keen ability to develop an expansive brain capacity and to sustain a wealth of cognitive, social and emotional abilities. Because of the fact that during these pivotal, early childhood years, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second – the brain’s full lifetime capacity develops 90% before a child even reaches age 5. In essence, the brain’s intricate architecture is already largely pre-destined before any one of us has even been exposed to formal learning and behavior patterns taught in school. The importance of the early childhood phase cannot be overstated and this is the primary reason that parents must not relegate the education of their children solely to others. Clearly, every one of us is required to be intimately involved and engaged in the educational process from birth. This aggressive, all-encompassing quest for knowledge must then be sustained throughout life.

One of the more meaningful assumptions about the Educate to Liberate (ETL) ideology, is that every person, at every age and rank in life, has something more to learn. Our model and expressed objective aims to meet the multifaceted needs of all individuals and our clientele ranges from that of PK-12 school-aged children, college and graduate level students, to adults seeking to learn specialized skills, homeschooling parents, educators, institutional professional development needs and corporate/non-profit training modules. In both a surprising and affirming manner, over the course of the past year and a half of our incorporation and international launch, the ETL clients most receptive to our efforts to turn the tide of mis-education and to promote a knowledge-driven platform c/o online learning? None other than that of countless Chinese families, who have an impressive and globally recognized reputation for owning their own educational trajectory and in earning coveted roles of international dominance in nearly every industry for their esteemed record of achievement and business acumen. As an international school without walls, Educate to Liberate has been afforded the coveted opportunity to work directly with parents seeking to supplement their child’s education with English language instruction, and to reinforce any/all of the core subject areas in which their children fail to master in school. To my utter surprise and delight, I have taught students as young as Chinese infants, who learn via a phone, laptop or tablet while sitting on their parents laps to adults (all within a digital platform). I have since learned that China’s educational trajectory mirrors the system here in the U.S. in that primary education begins at age 6, however this is where the similarities come to an abrupt end. Their educational system has earned an impressive reputation and school is admittedly challenging and competitive.

In China, children are only required to fulfill 9 years of education and following the primary level and three years of middle school, students have the option to decide whether or not they would like to continue for 3 more years of senior middle school to complete their secondary education. Despite heavy academic workloads in school, Chinese students are tutored daily in order to maintain the rigor of their peers and classmates. After a long school day beginning as early as 6 am and ending between 4 and 5 pm, Chinese students are tutored in a wide range of core/priority subjects ranging from Math, Literature, English, Chemistry, and Physics. The school day though rigorous, is balanced by a 2-hour lunch/recess/nap break and relatively short holidays, school vacation days. From a negative standpoint, China is believed to be achievement obsessed and as such, education is a luxury (after age 15), meaning that only the affluent can meet the universally high academic requirements which include affording the high cost of one-to-one tutoring. On the contrary, here in the U.S. the public school day is shorter, admittedly less rigorous and the great American pastimes of sports, recreation, social activities and behavior/character education are all universal pre-requisites of the teacher/school institution, rather than appropriately regarded as left to the discretion of one’s parents and family. It is my humble opinion that such an inordinate focus upon outdated and exclusionary standards, curriculum and instruction and perhaps most oppressively, high-stakes, standardized testing, has rendered the U.S. educational system as largely inept and incapable of competing on an international scale. While the largely universal Common Core standards seek to incorporate increased rigor, communication skills, higher-order thinking and problem-solving expertise . . . our children still emerge as comprising an expansive achievement gap and ranking or as woefully unprepared when faced with the reputation of international scholarship.

The solution? Owning our own education, starting at birth and with an equal amount of curiosity, desire, involvement and engagement throughout the remainder of one’s lifetime. From an institutional standpoint, we must de-emphasize the importance of rote memorization and non-essential, albeit flawed American nationalist inspired theories (i.e. the purposeful re-writing of history), in favor of a purposeful and wide-ranging base of knowledge whereby geography, the truth of U.S. history and even biology and algebra are taught from a very young age, and in accordance with student interest. Gone are the days where subjective letter grades and culturally biased, inaccurate and misused tests like the ACT can cease to have relevance and weigh considerably in college admission decisions. Instead, we must embrace the educational ideals of empowering students to embrace their own creativity and natural genius at an early age, implement a more balanced and equitable standards-based grading system while increasingly devaluing the validity of historic college admission tests designed to inordinately favor affluent, White males. Only then will we be poised to acknowledge and reward the inherent genius of Black, brown, red, yellow and white and to close the gaping abyss of the U.S. achievement gap. We can finally begin to bridge the divide of the unique learning style of Black males (and to a lesser degree Black females), in that we are primarily kinesthetic, tactile, musical, visual, creatively inductive and oral learners – a non-conformist style which is otherwise diametrically opposed to the structured, linear, passive, deductive, written, rule-bound, standardized and conformist style of learning which predominates in American schools. While formal education rewards a hierarchal style and approach to knowledge acquisition, all other people of color operate within a communal culture which approaches learning in much the same way. Therefore, we must conclude that for the vast majority of America’s diverse student population, a bevy of unexpected and traumatic experiences of one’s life occurs during the foundational academic (or formative) years, wherein children interact with authority figures (White, female teachers) or other peers who may not be similarly raised or share common, moral beliefs. Parents naively assume that their own contributions to their children’s development has evolved to a marked state of closure and the vast majority of one’s growth and development is then subtly yet wholly transferred to a school system. This is a grave travesty and therein lies a common problem and societal misnomer, from which we must duly cease and desist.

Contrary to popular belief and even more common practice, there is no magic or appropriate age upon which we should cease engagement and interaction with the educational trajectory. If in fact knowledge is power (and indeed it is) . . . then we must own the educational process as a means to overcome the glaring societal and moral disparities of poverty, oppression, and mis-education to accomplish our diverse, lifelong learning goals and to achieve global recognition of unparalleled academic achievement and business success. It bears repeating that while parents are the first teachers, no government institution, school or individual should have greater sway over a child’s education than one’s family or oneself. Rigorous, affordable and lifelong learning is readily accessible c/o the Educate to Liberate LLC technologically savvy and online learning platform.

Please visit https://educatetoliberatel.wixsite.com/website or https://www.facebook.com/KnowledgeFreedomPower/ for more information on personalized, differentiated online learning options for lifelong knowledge acquisition, today.